Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mike Leach was railroaded

The Mike Leach saga took a bizarre twist this morning when Texas Tech fired him [Tommy Craggs, Deadspin] just before [Matt Hinton, Dr. Saturday] he received a court order [Pete Thamel, Twitter] allowing him to coach in their bowl game. This comes after [AP] their suspension of him a few days earlier in response to allegations [Craggs] of mistreatment by Tech wide receiver Adam James, the son of ESPN analyst Craig James.

The whole thing stinks to high heaven. Seth C of Double-T Nation, the SBN blog for Texas Tech, has an excellent post here detailing the lack of communication between the university and Leach, the financial implications at stake and the power play between Leach and athletic director Gerald Myers. Spencer Hall goes through more of the details and discusses the power struggle between the two sides over at SB Nation, Chris Brown has an interesting analysis of how this might eventually shake out and Matt Hayes of The Sporting News has a great piece on the real reasons for the firing. As he writes, "This is the definition of payback, everyone. Nearly a year after the fact. The record will show that Leach, Tech's unorthodox yet highly successful coach, was fired Wednesday for mistreatment of a player with a "mild" concussion. The reality is Leach was fired because he took Texas Tech for everything it had last February during contract negotiations -- and made the university brass look like bumbling fools in the process." There's pretty clear evidence that there's more going on here than just Leach's alleged mistreatment of James.

Concussions have obviously been a key issue of mine for a long time, so you'd think I'd be all in favour of a coach getting fired for dealing with them improperly. In this case, you'd be wrong, though. Leach's actions seem perfectly reasonable; when faced with a concussed player sensitive to light, he had him go stand in a dark room during practice. That sounds like a pretty logical treatment, and certainly not something that would cause James further injury. It hardly smacks of cruel and unusual punishment, especially if you watch this video from the local NBC affiliate that explored the "sheds" where James was allegedly confined:

Not bad, eh? They certainly doesn't look anywhere near as awful as the James' family's press release made them sound. Perhaps even more revealing are the e-mails from former Tech players and coaches CBS' Dennis Dodd published on his blog, which give some interesting insights into the character of both Leach and Adam James. Here are some highlights:

Former Red Raider WR, current Saskatchewan Roughrider Eric Morris: "You can find out a lot about a person after playing three years of college football with them. Adam James was a teammate of mine from 2006-2009. Ever since the day he arrived on the Texas Tech campus you couldn’t help but to feel a negative energy from him. He expected people to baby him and that he was going make it solely on the fact that his father was a very successful player. Coach Leach has never been a coach to just give something to someone because of who they are. He believes that everyone is equal and you have to earn respect from your coaches and teammates. Adam was never known as a hard worker. I can honestly agree with this because we played the same position and I witnessed his laziness on a daily bases."

Former Red Raider QB, current Saskatchewan Roughrider Graham Harrell: " Before Adam James ever entered the football locker room at Texas Tech I heard how spoiled and selfish he acted in a team atmosphere from many of my baseball friends. Adam was on the baseball team his true freshman year at Tech, before he ever joined the football team, and did not make it through the baseball season because of his selfish attitude. After a baseball game in which he felt like he did not get enough playing time, but the team still won twenty to one, he came into the locker room after the game and “pouted and threw a big fit” according another player on the baseball team. A few weeks later in the middle of the season, he just stopped showing up to practices or game and quit because he was not happy about how he was being treated.

One of my roommates was a baseball player on the team and many of my friends were a part of the team that witnessed all of this. These baseball players told me he was “spoiled and selfish” before he ever came to the football team. After quitting baseball he came out for football and his selfish attitude was very evident, as was his laziness. During >off-season workouts he often would be caught skipping lifts in the weight room or finding ways to cut corners/get out of conditioning exercises. When we had player organized seven on seven throwing in the summer, when he would show up he was much more interested in playing his own games on the side of the field or telling people that he wasn’t going to run any routes because the coaches do not get him a “fair opportunity” anyway. During the season he was often “injured” (it usually seemed like a very minor injury that could keep him out of practice but never out of any other activity, including games) so he would not participate in some drills in practice. None of these acts were productive for our team, but the most detrimental part of Adam was his off field attitude and actions. ...

Mike Leach was not only my head coach, but he was my position coach all five of my years at Texas Tech. I spent more time with him than any other player during my five years and had meetings with him every day. He was very hard on me and every other player in program and he held very high expectations for every player. He would push us all every day during the season and during the off-season. He felt that hard work, dedication and doing things right was the only way we could be successful and compete in the Big XII conference. He worked harder and longer than anyone else in program and was committed to winning at all cost. He would never have been unfair to a player or not played the best players he had because he wanted to win more than anything else. Coach Leach also expected us to be tough but smart at the same time. He would not pressure a kid to play with a serious injury or play when he did not feel ready to play. Coach Leach is a man that cares about his player and puts his players, coaches and the well being of the Texas Tech football program above all else."

Current Tech slot receiver coach Lincoln Riley: "During the last two years of being the inside receivers coach, I have had the chance to learn a lot about Adam James. He came to Tech because of one person: Coach Leach. Although we adamently doubted his talent, we as coaches came to see that Adam actually had enough talent to help us out. The problem, though, is that Adam is unusually lazy and entitled. Many other players on this team, specifically receivers, have a much larger role on this team with less talent. I have always been worried about Adam's effect on my other players because of his weak and conceited attitude. I recently found out that Adam deliberately undermined my authority on many occasions. This is particularly disturbing because Coach Leach hired me to make our receivers the best group in the country, and Adam has damaged this
group far more than I even realized. ...

Two practices before Adam James claimed he had a concussion, Coach Leach and I were forced to discipline him for poor effort from the previous practice and poor effort during the early drills of that day. This has been a common theme about Adam's work ethic and attitude during his entire career. Adam, along with two other receivers that were also unsatisfactory, was sent to run stadium steps with Bennie Wylie. After the practice, Bennie made it very clear to Coach Leach and I that Adam was a complete "jerk" while he was being punished. After talking with Adam after the practice, it was very clear to me that Adam did not agree with the punishment and believed that we were just mis-asessing his effort. He complained to me that we were not doing our jobs as coaches and that his effort was just fine, all of which is very typical of him to say."

Former Tech slot receiver coach Dana Holgorsen, currently the offensive coordinator at the University of Houston: "I am writing this letter on behalf of Mike Leach in regards to the Adam James situation. I was the inside receiver coach at Texas Tech when we made the decision the sign Adam James in January of 2007. Adam had no offers to play NCAA D1 football during and after his Senior year. After a conversation between Coach Leach and Adams father Craig, Coach Leach acquired a brief highlight tape of Adam and made the decision to take him as a scholarship student athlete. I was opposed to doing so in belief he was not a D1 football player. Coach Leach overrode my opinion and Adam became a Red Raider. During the rest of my time at Texas Tech I was Adams position coach where I always remained critical of Adams ability to play at this level due to being lazy in not only the classroom but also in the off season and during practice. Coach Leach was the one who kept saying he believed Adam would eventually contribute. Adams teammates believed he was selfish and were constantly getting onto him for lack of effort as they sensed entitlement on his part due to his father being a very good football player. Adam eventually ended up playing a little after I left due to his body type being able to do some TE sets which consists of around 5-10 plays a game. Adam should be thankful for the opportunity to play at Texas Tech and for Mike Leach, who gave him the opportunity. In my opinion playing 5-10 plays a game in an outstanding offense is more than he would get at any other school in NCAA D1 football."

I highly recommend going to Dodd's blog to read the whole series of e-mails, but just the excerpts show a lot of what's really going on here. Yes, all of the players and coaches above have reasons to support Leach, but it's very interesting that they all hit the same points about James. Particularly of note are the comments by the coaches on how they didn't want James, but Leach argued for him. Sounds like Leach did James a favour, and for that favour, he's been stabbed in the back and has lost his job. Et tu, Brute?

What's interesting is that this is at least in some way a reassertion of the football establishment. Leach has always been a quirky figure outside the general club of football coaches, as shown by this fascinating 2005 profile of him by Michael Lewis. Craig James is much more of a traditionalist, so it's not surprising that he and Leach butted heads.

It's a shame that this is how things ended for Leach and Tech, though; he created a brilliant passing offence by thinking outside the box and produced greatquarterbacks like Harrell, who were unfortunately overlooked by the groupthink of professional football as I've written before
. He turned an afterthought of a program into a national presence, not by traditional means but through an unconventional system that maximized his players' strengths and minimized their weaknesses. For my money, he's one of the best coaches in NCAA football.

Of course, not everything Leach did was brilliant (blocking his players from using Twitter was just dumb, his "fat little girlfriends" comment was bizarre, renaming his quarterback "Nick" was pretty ridiculous and receiver Ed Britton, who Leach made study outside in a blizzard for missing class, has a much better claim to mistreatment than James). None of that is a reason to fire him, though, and neither is this latest case. In the end, the pirate-loving Leach has been forced to walk the plank before his time, railroaded by an administration looking for an excuse to dump him in favour of a more traditional coach. That's a shame. Hopefully Leach will land on his feet, bring an unconventional but successful approach to a new school and make all involved regret this travesty of a process.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a bit torn on this story, because of the concussion thing. Yeah, sending him to a room might have helped, but how about a doctor instead?

    Regardless, I still think he gets another job at some point, unless he gets some NCAA sanctions against him.